Like many of us, Joyce Hall has a certain fascination with television shows about cold cases. But her reasons are more intense and intimate than most could fathom.
Her interest is a complicated combination of ceaseless grief with unyielding thirst for just some token of resolution over the unsolved murder 20 years ago of her beloved son Tim — weeks after the Northeast High product had been waived by the Oakland Raiders and as he was auditioning for other teams, including the Chiefs.
So every once in a while, she is compelled to touch base to see if there might be any progress in the case, as she did again in recent weeks when she called Sgt. Ben Caldwell of the Kansas City Police Department’s missing person/cold case squad.
Now and again, there is even a flicker of potential clarity. Like when she was told there might be a break from a match with the bullets that were intended for her son’s childhood friend — bullets that instead killed the 24-year-old passenger she still calls her baby. Alas, she said, “that didn’t go anyplace.”
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Mostly, she hears that “nothing is going on” and reckons, “I guess they put it in a file and leave it there.”
There is more to it than that, noted Caldwell, who was not available to be interviewed in person but through e-mail said he was “unable to answer the vast majority of questions posed (by The Star) as the case is still open.”
Offering a clarification of cold cases in general, Caldwell said “there is a misconception that homicide cases are closed if not charged. The reality is, all cases are worked until all leads have been exhausted.”
Factors such as prisoner proffers, new forensic links and other advances, he said, can lead to a breakthrough.
When it comes to specifics of the Hall case, Caldwell said releasing details “could jeopardize the chance of successful prosecution in the future, should viable leads be developed. … In this case, numerous parties were identified as subjects of interest (which is to say they possess means, motive and opportunity or some combination thereof). Unfortunately, no suspects … were developed.”
He added, “The case has been reviewed multiple times, by numerous people, however, no new developments have come to light.”
And thus no peace for Joyce Hall and all the others who loved Tim, including three siblings and his father, the Rev. Jimmy Hall Jr.
Instead, like so many who have known the anguish of unsolved murders of loved ones, she relives it constantly and beseeches those who know something to finally come forward.
“Every time I hear about a shooting, I say that’s another mother who’s lost another child,” she said. “You just wonder what can be said or done to stop all this killing. This is horrifying.”
At least for now, though, she has found new hope.
‘Man among boys’
When Tim Hall arrived at Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh in 1994 to become part of the school’s inaugural football team, then-student manager Patrick Carothers was sent to the bus station to pick up Hall and two other former teammates from Kemper Military School in Boonville.
At the first practice for the program guided by Joe Walton, former coach of the New York Jets, Carothers, now a Pittsburgh attorney, remembers coaches being “almost giddy. They realized they had something. He was a man among boys.”
So much so that the guy whose job Hall took, Gary Kifer, perfectly understood being relegated to second string and ultimately playing fullback to block for Hall — who in two seasons at Robert Morris in what was then known as Division I-AA rushed for 2,908 yards and 34 touchdowns on 7.3 yards a carry.
Despite the fledgling program’s low profile, Walton enlisted the assistance of agent Ralph Cindrich to help Hall become a sixth-round draft pick of the Raiders in 1996.
“We all kind of lived through him in a sense; he kind of was our whole dream,” said Kifer, now a strength coach in Clearwater, Fla., adding, “If Tim Hall wasn’t such a great human being, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
That’s a common theme for those who speak of Hall. His older brother, Jimmy, thinks about how Tim would do anything for anybody and still cherishes that they’d typically hug every time they greeted each other or parted. And his friends speak of him this way: “Tim still lives inside me,” Carl Crennel, a former teammate and nephew of former Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, told Robert Morris for a video tribute to Hall.
When news broke of his murder on Sept. 30, 1998, Kifer said that within the Robert Morris community it was almost reminiscent of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard.
At a campus tribute for Hall a few weeks later, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a choked-up Walton called him “my friend, my football player, my son.” Former Colonials basketball player Steve Napper said, “Now, Tim, it’s time to take the last handoff from the Lord and run as long as you want to. No bumps. No breaks. No pain.”
The school has commemorated him virtually ever since. Every year on the anniversary of his death, Joyce Hall receives condolences and prayers. His No. 45 jersey is retired, and there is talk of a statue being built to further honor him.
Marking the 20th anniversary of his death a few weeks ago, the school announced the endowment of the Tim Hall Memorial Scholarship for minority running backs — a thrill for the family.
But while Jimmy Hall was in town representing the family at the ceremony, another moving and potentially momentous tribute arose:
Carothers and Kifer, who frequently talk about Hall, sought the permission of the family to bring in a private investigator to help the cause. Carothers is offering his help pro bono and, with the backing of Kifer and others, has brought in Finley Investigations out of Pittsburgh to try to put a new spotlight on the case.
Finley has found the KCPD receptive to its early efforts to connect dots and raise awareness of the case, and Carothers said a core group wants Joyce Hall to know they will try to provide “whatever they need, wherever it goes.”
Because Tim Hall had a legacy, Carothers, said, “a real one.”
“It’s the least I could do,” said Carothers, adding, “I don’t think (the case) got neglected, by any means. But, also, it didn’t get solved, right?”
Interest from the Chiefs
With Napoleon Kaufman in front of him, Tim Hall played sparingly in two seasons with the Raiders but was second on the team in rushing in 1997 with 123 yards on 23 carries.
Nursing shoulder and hip injuries in 1998, he was cut by new coach Jon Gruden in late August and returned home to Kansas City to prepare for what seemed a likely next chance in the NFL.
Among the teams who worked him out were the Chiefs, and Carothers was told by Walton and Cindrich that the hometown team was considering signing the back with 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard-dash. The day after his murder, then-Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer told The Star he was “in shock,” and that the Chiefs had just been speaking of Hall among their free-agent candidates.
The Green Bay Packers also were intrigued, the Post-Gazette reported, and on Oct. 1 the Jacksonville Jaguars called Cindrich to ask about him.
By then, though, Hall was dead in a hail of gunfire.
Police said then, and confirmed recently, that the shooting was intended not for Hall but the driver of the Chevy Suburban at a traffic light at the intersection of Blue Parkway and Eastwood Trafficway.
Reflecting Hall’s stature in Pittsburgh, the Post-Gazette came to Kansas City and wrote the most extensive known description of the scene from speaking with KCPD at the time. Caldwell via email confirmed the following account written by former Pittsburgh writer Chuck Finder, who recently called the story to the attention of The Star.
“The friend … apparently was being pursued. A white Chevy El Camino or Ford Ranchero — a car front with a pickup back — followed the sports utility vehicle down Blue Parkway to the intersection of the Eastwood Trafficway that leads, in two and a half miles, to Arrowhead Stadium. There, at the stoplight, two unidentified black men opened fire on the driver’s side.
“It was 9:42 p.m. Sept. 30. Police were summoned within three minutes. But the Suburban wasn’t there, just spent shell casings and shards of window glass.”
The driver, whose name is known to The Star but is not being disclosed in the event that would disrupt hopes to solve the case, had driven Hall’s body back to his mother’s house. Moments later, Joyce Hall received a phone call: Tim had been shot and was in the car in front.
She ran to the car screaming, she said, even before she knew how bad it was. Her son was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly thereafter.
The driver, a childhood friend of Tim Hall’s, didn’t say a word to her then or since.
He told police he hadn’t been hit because he ducked.
The intended target hadn’t been one of the people Joyce Hall worried about. But in hindsight she remembers feeling something was awry when he came inside to pick up Tim, ostensibly for what was to be a short trip to the grocery store.
“I felt this, like, an aura around him, and I couldn’t explain it,” she said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘What is it he’s not telling me?’ I just felt something when he walked through the door that I never felt before.”
Perhaps it had something to do with what Joyce Hall said police told her: that the friend “had been mixed up in a lot of things; he had a lot of people after him.” The next day, she was told, someone kicked in the door to his mother’s house, and he soon left town. She hears he’s back now.
Meanwhile, Tim, the son of the deeply religious accountant, had no criminal record, so many things going for him and a bright future.
“Just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Russ Dykstra, then a public information officer for the KCPD, told the Post-Gazette in 1998.
But a case that never ends for Joyce Hall and family and friends.
Sometimes, she thinks of a phone call she got in the days after Tim died, a voice saying, “Mrs. Hall, I’m sorry that Tim was killed,” and wonders if that was a person involved in the shooting.
Other times, her thoughts drift to the image of Tim in his coffin, wondering who could do such a thing and live with themselves. All this time later, it can still be overwhelming.
She musters a smile, though, as she thinks of how sweet and funny he was and their last words to each other.
That night, she’d returned home after being with her daughter at the hospital to help after a difficult birth of her son. Tim had been sleeping in her mother’s nicer bed while she was gone.
When she reminded him that she’d want it back, he said, “I don’t have to sleep in your bed tonight; I’ve already got a bed.”
“I thought later,” she said, “he meant he was going to be in the arms of Jesus.”
She takes comfort in that, because she must stay prayerful. Even understanding that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of such cases just locally, she just has to believe that the new initiative to find justice for her son will help her finally find some sense of peace after all these years.
“I would really hope before I leave this Earth I will know who took the life of my child,” she said. “I don’t hate the person. There’s no hatred there. But I would like to know why.”
Per police: Anyone with firsthand information regarding a cold case homicide is encouraged to contact the KCPD Homicide Unit directly at (816) 234-5043. If they are unable to do so, they are encouraged to call the tips hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477)